The very first cut of The
Promise features a lovely duet with Jeff Beck called "Django." There's some
delicate interplay between you two, as if you're finishing each other's sentences and
Absolutely. Jeff and I, we
go back a long time.
How long do you go back? I
know you were on tour in the '70s, you with Mahavishnu, him for the Blow By Blow tour.
And you played together on
Of course we did-not just me
and Jeff, but we had the whole band onstage.
What was it like playing
with two bands?
It was great-two drummers,
two bass players. It was Jeff with Bernard Purdy and Max Middleton, and me with Narada
Michael Walden, Ralphe Armstrong, and Stu Goldberg. We were all onstage. But Jeff and I
hadn't played for 20 years, so I called him. I wanted us to do this piece for a long time.
I thought this was very powerful, really poignant, for Jeff and I to get together to play
"Django." We went into the studio, we plugged in, and it's like 20 years just
disappeared in the blink of an eye. It was spooky. We just played, and it was on the first
take also, the one we used.
Was there a concerted effort
to get your sounds to match? There were a couple of times I could barely tell the moment
you traded off.
No, Jeff's got a unique
But you didn't try to get
the qualities similar?
No! We plugged in and
played. That's it, really. No tricks.
What was your sound setup
for the Beck song?
I went through a Sony M7
[effects processor], with a stereo output going into two amps-I don't know which ones. In
fact, I only used the amps like onstage monitors. Jeff had some old standards in a
cabinet, and they were miked and pretty loud. But I used my amps just as a monitor. It's
not enough to just hear the music with the headphones, you need to hear the drums, and
hear it through your body too-the bass, you need to hear it. So that's all. But I don't
think the amps are recorded on the tape. I'm recording direct.
What do you like about the
It's a very powerful unit,
in the sense that you have digital delay, but what you have I think is very powerful. It
splits the signal into stereo, and you have very powerful digital graphic equalization.
You have so many parameters in there, and just to get the sound involves a lot of going
inside to check each parameter. I'll be glad when they get some software for the
Macintosh, so that I can adjust all the parameters onscreen instead of one at time. But,
it's a very good unit. Also you have special panning features in the stereo output, all
different kinds of panning, and it can be like a random thing, but you can control it in
such a refined way. You don't really know what's happened to the sound in there, only that
it's somehow moving in some unusual way, in a random way. In the end, it becomes quite a
natural sound, and it's taken quite some time just to do it, but I really like it. I like
what it does.
Michigan luthier Abe Wechter
has been making your nylon-strings for years. Have you found in his guitars what you're
Yes, because Abe's guitars
are great. I mean, there's always room for improvement, but these guitars were made for
me, including my current one, "Notre Dame," as they say in France. The guitars
prior to that were more like standard classical cutaways. I was very happy just to play
them the way they are. But I think between Abraham and I, we probably went about as far as
you can go in the development. We've been working many years together on acoustic guitars.
These guitars are really made for me, with my physiognomy. Because I have long arms, and
I'm tall, I need a big-body guitar, which is one of the reasons why I play an
acoustic-electric guitar today. A little solidbody is lost on me now. After all these
years of playing acoustic guitar, I want to feel a body, I need to feel it. It's weird,
but it's true. So this guitar, the size is perfect for me. I have a student, and it's too
big for him.
You've said something to the
effect that nylon strings are better percussively.
Yes, that's absolutely true.
My understanding of
"percussive" is a sharp attack and a rapid decay, which is really more
characteristic of steel strings than nylon, isn't it?
Not my strings.
Can you explain that?
I don't know how, but you
have more of an impact from a nylon string than you do from a steel string. A wider
impact. A steel string will sustain longer, too. I'm talking about upper register. The
nylon strings are only three; the others are silk and nickel. So I'm talking about the
upper-register nylon strings, G, B, and E, and, I mean, there's no doubt about it, you
have much greater percussive impact.
Can you play a nylon string
louder than you could a steel string?
No. Not louder, but you have
Have you ever played
Yeah, I tried. When I was
young, when I first picked up the guitar, I didn't even know what a pick was. I didn't
even know what an electric guitar was. I tried, because I was listening to blues first,
Mississippi blues, and I became enamored of Muddy Waters, Leadbellyand that was
fingerstyle, of course. But it's when I got really taken by jazz that I realized I needed
Even with your association
with Paco de Lucia?
Yeah. I mean, Paco is
phenomenal on his instrument with fingerstyle. In fact, I would go as far to say-and I'll
get a lot of flack for this, but-flamenco technique is superior even to classical.
Because you use four fingers
[rather than the standard three for flngerstyle-ed.], you strike the strings in addition
to picking them, and then you have the tremolos.
But you never found how it
could be useful for you?
No, because the thing is,
this kind of phrasing in flamenco is wonderful if you're playing that style, and I love
it, but it's not jazz music, and somehow it doesn't lend itself in the sense that the pick
does in jazz music. Jazz guitar grew up with a pick, with the exception of Wes Montgomery.
There are other exceptions, like Jeff Beck. Jeff plays great things without a pick, as
does Mark Knopfler. They're amazing. But, for your average mortal like me, I'm a pick man.
But there are wonderful
fingerstyle jazz players other than the ones you mentioned.
It's true. I admire them,
whether it's Earl Klugh or Charlie Byrd, or Laurindo Almeida. But I cannot, nor do I want
to, let go of this particular school, shall I say of jazz, which I really grew up
with-people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, and then later of course
with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock Their approach is essentially linear, which is why I
play the way I do, because of my predilection in that direction. If my nature is to go
that way, I don't want to fight with my nature, so I just go. And it doesn't stop me from
admiring the great fingerstyle jazz players, but since I grew up with this school, I have
a preference for that way of playing.
What guitar did you use or
"El Ciego," the trio cut with Al Di Meola and Paco?
The same guitar, the
And the panning setup never
changes with the Paco, John and Al trio?
Right, except this is the
first time we recorded with Paco panned to the middle. Usually, I'm in the middle, and
Al's to the left, but the way the melody was, I thought Paco should be In the middle.
"The Wish" has a
North Indian influence, much like your work with Shakti. I was surprised to hear this song
with electric guitar; I expected to hear acoustic.
Well, Shakti was 75 percent
Indian-North and South-and me. Now it's again 75 percent Indian, with the simple
difference that Trilok [Gurtu, percussionist] is an Indian who adores and plays jazz, and
I really like the juxtaposition of Trilok and myself with him playing percussion in a jazz
way. It has a very nice association with electric guitar-acoustic-electric guitar-as
opposed to playing with a [miked acoustic] Shakti guitar, because in a way it's balanced
from the point of view of West and East, when you look at them like this. Trilok and I
have a very strong complicity, and he has this feeling for jazz that's incredible for an
Indian percussionist. It's phenomenal. So I like this kind of juxtaposition of tabla and
sitar, which Is pure North-Indian classical, and you have Trilok coming with his
percussion and his pots and pans, and me playing electric guitar. For me, I like the way
it came out. And of course it's a surprise, because you expect the Shakti sound. But I was
looking for more equilibrium between East and West. And I like it, too, because there's a
point where it really shifts. The rhythmic cycles are identical and the song continues,
but we move in different degrees that interpret these cycles in different ways. Like the
way, for example, the Indian musicians play the triplets. And then the jazz guys would
come in with their version of triplets and it's a totally different interpretation-really
Western. Now, I wouldn't be able to do that-to bring more of this world into the
music-which is one of the reasons for Shakti, I wanted to bring more Western music into
Shakti, at the end of it, but it was not easy. You have to find the right way to do it.
Have you considered doing a
We did. But just in India.
Why not bring it to the U.S.
I don't know, maybe we will
So it's not something that
you've evolved past and couldn't go back to. You'd entertain the idea?
Are you kidding? What a
beautiful group! In fact, I should have been in India most of this year, but I had
schedule conflicts. There are so many wonderful musicians I want to play with. I have very
close associations with India, be it philosophically or culturally or musically. I have a
very strong attachment to India. I am a student of their music, culture, and religion.